Tag Archives: open gardens

2021 Taranaki Garden Festival in Covid Times

White ixias and Iris sibirica ‘Blue Moon’ in the summer borders

As you read this, we will be on the last day of the 2021 Taranaki Garden Festival. Ten days may not sound long but it is very long when you are meeting and greeting visitors solidly, especially given our lives where we spend long periods of time alone with our own thoughts in the garden. So forgive me if I seem a little tired.

It has been an odd festival. Last year broke all visitor records when the country was Covid-free but nobody could travel overseas. This year was shaping up to be even larger until Delta took hold in Auckland and then Waikato. With internal borders closed to the north of us, we kept our fingers crossed that they would reopen in time for the festival but it became clear that would not be the case. When we had ten coaches cancel in the week before festival, it was a bit… deflating, shall I say? With those northern borders closed, we could see that 40% of the visitor base simply couldn’t travel. Added to that, a fair number of people to the south didn’t want to travel and who can blame them? Preparing the garden for a festival that seemed to be dwindling day by day felt very much like being all dressed up for a party but nobody was coming.

In the end, it has been fine. Yes, visitor numbers are way down on the early indications but overall, we have still been running above our long-term average. Not hugely above but better than expected.

Our friend and helper on the gate during a Covid festival

A Covid festival has been different to manage, especially in this country where we were late to adopt wearing masks. But I can report that the particularly loud – rabid, even – but small number of Covid deniers/anti maskers/anti vaxxers are not garden lovers. We have had 100% cooperation on scanning or signing in and keeping to our masking policy (mask at the entrance and then carry it around the garden to wear if near others). None of us likes masking but nobody wants to spread Covid in areas of this country that are still blessed to be free or largely free from it at this stage*.  The good-natured compliance has been a surprise to us but very welcome. It seems that when expectations are clear, people respect the protocols. I have found managing physical distancing challenging when taking workshops and leading tours around the garden but goodwill goes a long way.

Even we never work beneath these trees in windy times; we were not going to risk visitors’ safety.
Blocking off paths and redirecting visitors around danger areas

Wednesday – oh windy Wednesday. It is a long time since we have experienced a wind such as the one that blew relentlessly all night and day. It was not so much wind as a howling gale. At least we managed to remain open and areas of the garden are so sheltered that all that could be heard was the roaring in the treetops above. A few other gardens were forced to close entirely. For the first time, we closed one section of our garden. Walking the Avenue Gardens beneath our giant old-man pines was a significant safety risk so we redirected the routes to skirt around that area. But brave souls still turned up to visit.

Lloyd ‘vacuuming’ the lawns at 8am
Zach on the motor blower
Mark scooping the pond and sweeping the sunken garden. I don’t do selfies so there is no photo of me but I was equally busy.

On Thursday morning, the place was a mess. Nothing big came down but everything loose, small or dead certainly did. Never have I been so grateful to our small team. By 8am the next morning, we were all out doing a rapid clean-up. Zach was on the motor blower, Lloyd was vacuuming the lawns with the lawnmower, Mark was scooping all the debris out of the freshly cleaned goldfish pond and sweeping the sunken garden and I was reopening the Avenue Gardens. Soon after 9am, there was little evidence left of the storm damage and even I was impressed at the speed and efficiency with which we managed the restoration of order and garden decorum.

Zach and I have already scoped out patches of blue Iris sibirica we can raid to extend the patch in the park that is flowering so prettily

At 5pm today, we will bring in the flag and signs and close the gates. We have no intentions of opening for more than the ten days. Festival is most affirming for us. We are delighted that people come and respond to what we have here and clearly enjoy their visit. The praise is balm to our gardening souls. It will sustain us for the next 355 days. Tomorrow, we will be back out in our gardening clothes (looking more like old tramps, if I am honest), masks put aside for trips off the property only and moving more Sibirican irises down to the meadow by the stream. There is plenty to keep us busy.

Footnote: it appears our Covid-free honeymoon is over. It has been found in wastewater nearby so we now go into a holding pattern as we wait to find how much Covid we have in our area.

Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to Festival 2021

Believe it or not, the Taranaki Garden Festival has run every year for 34 years. It started life as a rhododendron festival and we still have a few rhododendrons in the garden, quite a few in fact, including the lovely sino nuttallii.

The official programme for the Taranaki Garden Festival was launched this week.

Last year, when we reopened for the first time in seven years, it coincided with the domestic tourism boom after our short lockdown. The numbers were astounding but we managed, bar the poocalypse. This year, I thought visitor numbers might receive a further boost from Australian garden-lovers starved of other travel destinations. Chance would be a fine thing.

We follow Australian Covid closely with our immediate family spread across three states there. We had hoped for an extended weekend get-together in August. Somewhere more northerly in Australia we thought – maybe the Whitsundays or even the Sunshine Coast, thereby introducing a fourth state into already complicated travel plans. For overseas readers, this was because of the introduction of a quarantine-free travel bubble between NZ and Australia. That is not going to happen since the arrival of the Delta variant into Australia and the suspension of the travel bubble. Clearly planning ahead with any certainty is not an option at this time, though I have pointed out to our children that when the bubble reopens, it does appear that there is less likelihood of getting trapped on this side than on the Australian side. But I am guessing only a few intrepid Australians who can risk getting trapped away from home by a Covid outbreak may turn up for our garden festival.

The world may be sick of Covid but Covid is not done with us yet.

Hippeastrum papilio in the Rimu Walk

Back to the festival. We are reopening but only for the ten days of from Friday 29 October to Sunday 7 November. I was so shellshocked last year, I wasn’t sure we would reopen but the addition of Zach to our small team has taken the pressure of preparation right off me and the garden has never looked better. We have never been so advanced in our preparation this early before. There will be no neglected areas or tasks unfinished, the way we are going. It brings the pleasure back to gardening when the anxiety and pressure of getting it to opening standard is relieved by an extra pair of very capable hands.

The Court Garden in early November – one of a series of five new summer gardens we have created in the years we spent closed

Following the success of the workshops Mark and I offered last year (well, mostly me, to be honest but I am reliant on Mark as my in-house technical advisor and resident expert), we are offering more this year. So many people missed out on  ‘New Directions with Sunny Perennials’ that we are offering it twice this year, with another valuable year of experience under our belts. The blurb reads:

New Directions with Sunny Perennials

For over a decade, Mark and Abbie have been looking at modern trends in perennial gardening, variously described as ‘Dutch New Wave’, ‘New Perennials’ and the ‘New Naturalism’. This has culminated in the planting of the summer gardens. Join them for morning tea and a talk on key points they have distilled from visiting over 90 gardens in England, France and Italy, tracking the work of six contemporary designers and how they have applied this in their own garden.

Monday 1 Nov and Saturday 6 Nov 10.15am – 12.00

Are you looking for gentler ways to garden?

Instead of repeating the meadow workshop, we have expanded it to take in managing a wild garden as part of our personal commitment to finding softer, more naturalistic and sustainable ways to manage our garden.

A Gentler Way to Garden

The Jurys have been exploring strategies to ensure their garden is not only beautiful but also sustainable in the longer term and biologically friendly. Join them to learn about meadow styles and management and the techniques underpinning their new Wild North Garden and their park meadow.

Sunday 31 October 10.15am – 12.00

We are well on the way to being ready to open the Wild North Garden

All the information is online here and you can request a hard copy of the programme. Bookings for our workshops are essential and can be made through that link to the Festival Office.

We would love to see some of you here this spring.

Melding the old gardens with the new into a single garden experience

Garden styles

It is a long time since I published a piece on the folly of allowing garden openers to write their own descriptions. Even then, discretion won out and I only published it on a UK gardening site I was contributing to at the time. This explains why I couldn’t find it on my own site when I went looking for it. A not-unrelated situation arose this week when we were asked to describe the style of our garden in a single word. Apparently, this helps garden visitors.

As a seasoned garden visitor myself, I am as wary of garden owners getting to declare their own ‘style’ as I am of getting them to write their own descriptions. But just in case you need some assistance in interpreting garden style, I offer the following explanations. Some, but not all of these ‘styles’ were offered as a suggestion to help us in defining our own garden category.

Japanese – three rocks, some raked gravel and a recently planted dwarf red maple.

English style, as seen through NZ eyes

English – buxus hedging, garden rooms, a Japanese cherry tree and pretty flowers because in NZ, the English garden style begins and ends with the Arts and Crafts movement seen by so many at Sissinghurst and Hidcote.

The real McCoy – Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Italian – more likely ‘Italianate’, similar to the connection between a ‘dinette’ and a banqueting hall, or a ‘kitchenette’ and a caterer’s kitchen. Terracotta pots, a clipped bay tree and hard landscaping carried out in concrete and ponga* logs or tanalised timber on account of a dearth of skilled Italian stonemasons here.

This really was a designer garden, designed by Dan Pearson

Designer – in theory a garden created by a name designer and executed with attention to detail and a big budget but more likely to be a recent garden designed and planted by the owner, a younger woman in her 30s or early 40s who is a magazine subscriber and who bought some graph paper, large paving slabs and black mondo grass.

Tropical – a naive gardener who does not realise that nobody has a tropical garden in Taranaki owing to us not having anything like a tropical climate. More likely to be three palms, either hardy or half hardy, and ten bromeliads. 

East Lambrook Manor set the standard for cottage gardens

Cottage – If you are expecting something like Margery Fish’s iconic cottage garden at East Lambrook Manor, you may be disappointed. More likely to be packets of wild flower seeds scattered on bare soil, struggling to germinate, let alone flower. And a clipped camellia and maybe some common purple foxgloves.

Plantsman’s – this is a difficult one. To those in the know about open gardens, it is often used as code for a garden lacking in design, prettiness or charm that may appeal to those who take a magnifying glass with them when they go garden visiting in order to view the close-up of an obscure native orchid in bloom. Occasionally, this is a descriptor adopted by an ambitious gardener with over 30 different plants in their garden who is unaware that in the rarefied atmosphere of upper-level horticulture and botany, the term ‘plantsperson’ is an honour bestowed by peers and colleagues, not self-awarded.

Courtyard – 80% paved or decked with a very expensive outdoor dining suite, sofa with all weather cushions, lighting, a very (very) small water feature and a narrow border or two on the periphery planted with clivias and a Kentia palm.

A splendid crop of broad beans

Vegetable – featuring a splendid broad bean crop in spring, some small tomato plants and a worm farm.

Sustainable vegetable – as above but mulched in cardboard or old woollen carpet.

Insect hotels are very on trend.

Potager – another vegetable garden but this time with rainbow chard and fancy lettuces corseted in clipped buxus hedging and featuring a fancy insect hotel.

Welford Park. Photo credit Chris Wood via Wiki Commons

Woodland – you may be envisaging an open scene of deciduous trees, perhaps white barked birches – with a sea of snowdrops beneath. More likely to be over-planted trees which need thinning and limbing up, underplanted with a few hostas and clivias that are struggling with root competition and too much shade.

Coastal – windy. Trees growing at a 45° angle, ice plants, gazanias, some wind burnt succulents and a defoliated copper beech.

A friend who has extensive experience in plant sales contributed the ‘Low Maintenance Garden’ – griselinia hedges, yuccas and Agave attenuata for structural focus, with Coprosma ‘Hawera’ groundcover, all surrounded by black stained bark chips.

The idea of defining our garden by a single style defeated me entirely.

*Ponga – NZ tree fern trunks which are widely available, relatively long lasting and usually inexpensive or even free.